After 70 years, local ambulance authority could close over Petersburg budget crisis

Posted at 7:36 PM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 19:53:43-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- After more than 70 years of saving lives, the Southside Virginia Emergency Crew (SVEC) could be forced to close over Petersburg's budget crisis.

The money the city budgets for SVEC was cut in half two and a half years ago when the non-profit was instructed to cut back service to serve half of the city. The Petersburg Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services picked up medical coverage for the other side of town.

Now to slash costs, a consulting firm recommended Petersburg not fund SVEC next year and instead have the fire department respond to all medical calls.

However, officials with SVEC said the end may come sooner since the agency's governing board reported the city has not paid their current bill. In addition, officials fear the city may also not pay their next bill, which is due soon.

As a result, officials said the city is basically leaving the crew with no funding.

"We're looking at right now, October 1st" Bubby Bish, Director of Operations for SVEC, said.

Bubby Bish, Director of Operations for SVEC, said.

Bubby Bish, Director of Operations for SVEC, said.

The SVEC board warned all employees Wednesday night that they should start looking for a new job.

The number of jobs lost "16 full-time people and approximately 8 to 10 part-time"

Bish said 16 full-time positions  and approximately 8 to 10 part-time positions are at risk.

For some, like paramedic Bee Betts whose entire career has been with the crew, the news came as a shock.

"Jobwise, I don't think it's sunk in,"  Betts said. "I mean it's, I don't know anything else. I haven't done anything else for 30 years."

Paramedic Joe Grau, who  has spent nine years with SVEC, considers those living and working in Petersburg to be in danger if SVEC closes.

"On some instances, emergency calls are very time dependent," Grau said. "And if you're getting a dispatch response of 10 to 12 minutes instead of six minutes or five minutes, it can be the difference in surviving a heart attack and not."

Southside Virginia Emergency Crew

Southside Virginia Emergency Crew

One big concern is if Petersburg Fire Department could take over all medical calls for the entire city on Oct. 1. Many believe that is not possible for several reasons.

"The City of Petersburg owns two ambulances and we have six," said Bish, who pointed out that the city's ambulances are not as fully equipped as SVEC's.

Additionally, SVEC officials noted the level of medical care would differ since SVEC paramedics offer advanced life support care and Petersburg crews do not.

WTVR CBS 6 reached out to Petersburg city leaders for comment, but had not heard back as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

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